Choshi is a town that developed at the mouth of the Tone River in the northeastern corner of Chiba Prefecture. It is said that the name Choshi was given because the topography of the mouth of the Tone River, which has a narrow entrance and a wide interior, resembles a 'Choshi' (= sake bottle).
Inubosaki in Choshi is a cape jutting out to the east of the Kanto Plain, and is the place to see the sunrise on the New Year’s Day earlier than any other places of the Japanese archipelago. Chiba Prefecture is mostly made up of newer strata from the Cenozoic Era. Only in Choshi there exist older strata from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods of the Mesozoic Era. It is interesting to know that the Mesozoic strata in Choshi are the same as those around Oume, west of Tokyo, which is 150 kilometers away from Choshi in a straight line. However, between the two locations the same strata lie at a depth of 2,000 to 3,000 meters below ground. This means that the Kanto Plain is the product of a basin-building activity and that evidence for this is found at Inubosaki.
In addition to these natural scientific attractions, Choshi also has something noticeable about human activities. Choshi has prospered from the fishing industry since the Edo period. In 2022, Choshi Fishing Port' s landing volume reached 236,000 tons, recording the largest landing volume among Japanese fishing ports for 12 consecutive years. In addition, Choshi has had a thriving soy sauce manufacturing industry since the Edo period, and now Yamasa ranks second in terms of production and Higeta ranks fourth in the nation.
Both the fishing industry and the soy sauce industry were brought to Choshi from Ki-shu. Various people from Shikoku and Ki-shu have come to the coast of Bo-shu from ancient times on the Kuroshio Current, and there are many common place names in both regions. In Choshi in particular, immigrants from Ki-shu laid the foundation for its prosperity after the Edo period.
In addition, relocation of the Tone River, initiated by Tokugawa Ieyasu at the beginning of the 17th century to protect Edo from flood damage, brought about a safe transport route using inland water from Choshi to Edo. This enabled Choshi to develop as a transit point of rice and other products transported from the Tohoku region to Edo.
At the end of the Edo period, Choshi had a population of ca.17,000, making it the third most populated city in the Kanto region after Edo and Mito. It wasn't until the latter half of the Meiji period that Chiba, the prefectural capital, caught up with Choshi.
I was born and raised in Chiba City, so when I was in elementary school, I went to Choshi on a day school trip by bus. The Inubozaki lighthouse and the soy sauce factory that I visited at that time are engraved in my mind. In particular the strong smell of moromi, intermediate product of soy source, cannot be easily forgotten. Around that time, Choshi Shogyo High School had good results at the National High School Baseball Championship including the victory of the tournament and the memories of Kitaru and Shinozuka, who later went on to professional baseball, remain vivid.
Though I have lots of memories related to Choshi, I haven't been to Choshi for a long time these days, so I decided to take an overnight trip to Choshi to try some delicious fish.
Choshi can be reached in 1 hour and 50 minutes if you take an express train from Tokyo Station. However, local train also reaches Choshi only in two and a half hours. Do you want to pay the limited express fare of 1,360 yen (some 10 dollars) to shorten the trip by only 40 minutes? Railway enthusiasts would certainly choose local train so as to sufficiently enjoy the atmosphere of rural area of Chiba at lower cost.
Choshi Electric Railway
They would also be pleased to know that the Choshi Electric Railway, a local railroad line, runs 6.4 kilometers from JR Choshi Station to Togawa Fishing Port beyond Inubosaki. It seems that the business crises that have occurred several times to the railway company have been overcome for the time being as a result of various efforts including selling Choshi' s specialty "nuresenbei" (wet rice cracker) at its stations and offering station naming rights to generous supporters.
In order to visit the Inubozaki lighthouse, we should better get off at Inubo Station. It is the 8th stop from Choshi and takes 17-18 minutes. Built in 1990, the building of Inubosaki Station is popular for its Portuguese-style appearance.
The Inubozaki lighthouse was completed in 1874 under the design and supervision of a British engineer R.H. Brunton. In that occasion, the high-quality bricks necessary for the construction of lighthouse were manufactured in Japan for the first time. Not only is it a historical building, but the white tower on the cliff facing the Pacific Ocean is beautiful in itself. Currently, it emits light of 1.1 million candela and has a light reach of 19.5 nautical miles. You can reach the top of the lighthouse by climbing 99 steps.
Fiver-storied pagoda of Enpukuji
In addition to the Inubosaki lighthouse, Choshi has two other distinctive towers. One of them is the five-storied pagoda of Enpukuji Temple. Enpukuji is an ancient temple dedicated to an eleven-faced Kannon statue, which was salvaged from the sea by fishermen in 728 AD, and is located in the historic center of Choshi. It has been revered for generations by the Kaijo clan, descendants of the Chiba clan, who were instrumental in establishing the Kamakura shogunate, and boasted a magnificent temple until before World War II. The town of Choshi can be said to have developed from the temple town of Enpukuji. The temple buildings were totally destroyed by the US air raids during the War, but were rebuilt little by little after the war. The five-storied pagoda was built in 2009. The combination with the open-air sitting statue of Amida Nyorai, which survived the war, is impressive.
Another tower is the Port Tower in the middle of the Choshi Fish Market. Unfortunately, due to the corona epidemic sightseeing tours of the market are currently suspended. The Third Department of the Fish Market, which specializes in demersal fish, can be seen from a nearby quay. There were several fishermen hanging their line along the quay, so I asked them what they would catch, and they said juvenile mackerel and baby sweetfish. They are both good for tempura, added a fisherman. I learned for the first time that sweetfish, which is famous as a clear stream fish, is born and raised in the sea. Near the Fish Market, there is a seafood market for tourists and the Port Tower rising from it. On a clear day, you can even see Mt. Fuji and the mountains of Nikko from the Tower. Several vessels of the Japan Coast Guard are anchored nearby, and they are working to protect the safety of the sea from here to the southern tip of the Boso Peninsula.
Full-scale fishing began in Choshi in the middle of the Edo period. Fishermen from around Ki-shu began to travel to Bo-shu to fish sardines. Sardines were dried and sold as high-quality fertilizer and the demand for them was skyrocketing at the time. Before long, some migrant fishers settled down in Bo-shu area, and some started working in soy sauce brewing which was developed in their hometown of Ki-shu. Fortunately, the soybeans and wheat needed to brew soy sauce were harvested around the Tone River's inland waterway. Higeta (HP is Japanese only) and Yamasa were founded in 1616 and 1645, respectively, and the production of koikuchi (dark colored) soy sauce, which is now the standard for soy sauce in Japan, began in Choshi.
Arriving in the town of Choshi, the smell of moromi catches your nose. Although the recent modernization of the factory has greatly reduced the odor that leaks out, there is no doubt that there is no one who visits Choshi and does not notice the odor. Soy sauce factories can't be visited because of the coronavirus, but there are a small museum and a shop next to Yamasa’s First Factory, so I visited them. They are on the left side immediately after entering the gate of the factory, and the oldest existing diesel locomotive in Japan is exhibited in their front. Manufactured by Deutz AG in Germany in 1920, it was used for transportation within the factory premises until 1964.
Myofukuji Temple, known for its wisteria blossom, is right next to Yamasa's factory. The Nichiren sect has traditionally been influential in this area, and this Myofukuji Temple is also a temple of the Nichiren sect. Even now, it seems that the parishioners are enthusiastically supporting the temple, new buildings have been built, and the precincts are splendidly maintained.
Myofukuji Temple is close to Choshi Station. The current center of Choshi is the area surrounded by Choshi Station, The First Department of the Fish Market, and Enpukuji Temple. For those who come to Choshi and want to eat fresh fish, there are many restaurants around here, especially near the fish market. However, since the locals probably eat fish at home, most of the restaurants where you can eat fish are for tourists. The fish those restaurants offer are indeed very fresh and it is worth coming to Choshi to eat fish there. However, I feel that their cooking generally lacks in meticulousness. Compared to them, the Japanese restaurant at the Plaza Hotel, where I happened to stay, does not have a better score on Internet review sites such as Tabelog, but it cooked carefully and professionally and I and my partner highly appreciated its dishes.
Souvenirs from Choshi are good if they are related to fish and soy sauce. "Nuresenbei" and "mackerel sushi" are widely known, but I would like to find something a little higher quality and difficult to obtain outside of Choshi. For example, bonito tsukudani of "Shinoda (HP Japanese only)" has a strong ginger flavor, and it's not overly sweet or bland, as it is today. I'm very glad that they carefully abide by the traditional recipe and the old-fashioned flavor. “Yamaju (HP Japanese only)" is a Hishio specialty store. Hishio is an ancient fermented condiment similar to soy sauce and miso, and appears already in the Manyoshu, the first collection of Japanese poetry from the 8th century. I'm glad that it's been handed down to the present day. Soy sauce companies also have limited-edition products that are sold only at the production area. For example, Yamasa's "Soy Noir".
So Choshi is not just a rural town. It’s good that it is lively, although it is a small town. There are many things that haven't been able to mention in this essay, but I would like to recommend you to experience Choshi, a town with various charms.